John Nicholas Athan, the former Seattle man convicted of murder after he unwittingly gave police a DNA sample by licking an envelope, will be released on parole this year.

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A former Seattle man who killed a teenage neighbor in 1982, but wasn’t arrested until 21 years later after he was tricked into giving police a DNA sample, will be released from prison this year.

The state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, or parole board, recently determined that John Nicholas Athan, 43, has made “significant behavioral and cognitive” changes and is not likely to reoffend, according to the board’s final report. The board has approved Athan’s release on parole from prison as early as spring after serving about seven years behind bars.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who joined the victim’s family in objecting to Athan’s release, said he is disappointed with the board’s decision.

“I don’t think seven years is long enough for a murder. I think he did get rewarded for running away and hiding for 20 years,” Satterberg said on Tuesday.

Athan was 14 when he strangled Kristen Sumstad, his 13-year-old neighbor. The girl’s half-nude body was found on Nov. 12, 1982, inside a cardboard box behind a television-repair shop in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood where the teen lived.

Athan was considered a suspect from the beginning, but for 20 years there wasn’t enough physical evidence to link him to the slaying.

He was finally convicted of second-degree murder in 2004, but only after Seattle police used a ruse to link him to the crime.

Investigators, posing as members of a fictitious law firm, sent a letter to Athan inviting him to join a class-action lawsuit for overpaid parking tickets. After Athan licked a return envelope investigators had mailed to him, his DNA was matched to a sample that had been recovered from Sumstad’s body.

During Athan’s trial, his defense lawyer John Muenster argued that the DNA evidence was obtained illegally, but Athan was convicted. In May 2007, the state Supreme Court found that police did not violate Athan’s constitutional rights by concocting the ruse, and upheld his conviction.

Because Athan was sentenced under the state’s old sentencing guidelines, the exact length of his prison term was up to the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. The board considered the crime he committed, his behavior in prison and his prior history. Board members also heard from Athan last month.

Board Chair Lynne De Lano said that when they met with Athan at Stafford Creek Corrections Center on Jan. 11, he had made some definite improvements since his last appearance before the board in 2009.

“The board had felt that he needed to work on some chemical-dependency issues, and he did that,” De Lano said. “We had some good reports from the treatment provider. His testimony reflected some obvious changes in thinking.”

Athan also “expressed considerable remorse and sorrow for his crime and the impact on the victim and her family,” according to the board’s report. A psychological evaluation performed in 2009 indicated that Athan was “a low-risk for general and violent recidivism,” the report read.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294